Virginia governor issues executive order to keep phones out of classrooms

Gov. Glenn Youngkin wants to eliminate cell phones from school.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the Virginia governor, issued an executive order on Tuesday that banned cellphones in all public schools throughout the state.

The state Education Department is required to provide guidance on how to implement local policies that establish “cell-phone-free education” in public schools.

According to the executive orders, this involves engaging parents, students and teachers, as well other members of the community, to develop age-appropriate limitations during instructional times, as well developing protocols to enable parents to reach their children in an emergency.

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Youngkin stated in the press release that “this essential action will promote an educational environment in which every child can learn freely,” adding that the directive is intended to “protect our students’ health and safety by limiting their exposure to social media and addictive cell phones, and eliminating clear distractions from the classroom.”

The executive order cites a mental health crisis among teens, as well as the deterioration of academic achievement in the past decade as being largely driven by social media and cell phone use. It says that a cellphone-free school will result in kids spending less time on their phones when they are not under parental supervision.

The new rules may include the use a dedicated pouch for cellphones, lockers, or other ways to restrict access. Other digital devices such as smartwatches and tablets, or personal computers, could be subject to similar restrictions.

The directive requires that school divisions adopt the new policy by January 1, after the state issues its final guidance in mid-September.

Janet Kelly (State secretary of Health and Human Resources) said in a news release that many parents and teachers find it difficult to strike a balance between socializing and using social media, screen time and playtime, or time for learning and playing, and real human contact and internet access. The more we learn about the harmful effects of too much screen-time, especially on kids’ mental and physical health, we are more convinced.

Kelly also said that Youngkin’s order is in line with U.S. Vivek M. Murthy, Surgeon General of India, has recently called for young people to be protected from social media’s potential mental health hazards.

Virginia is the latest state to try and legislate restrictions for cellphones in classrooms. Parents and teachers are increasingly concerned about the distractions that the devices can cause and the possible harms they could do.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed the same desire to restrict smartphones more severely in schools. He was referring to several legislative initiatives that could be introduced this year.

Indiana passed a bill in March that requires schools to adopt policies restricting the use of cellphones during instruction time. Oklahoma, Vermont, and Virginia have also introduced legislation to keep cell phones out of school this year.

Florida was the first state in the country to ban cell phones during school time, and to restrict access to social media sites on the district Wi-Fi.